Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo has been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct by the Health Care Complaints Commission. He has been accused of having a “substantially experimental” attitude when performing surgeries on two patients. The families of these patients, referred to as Patient A and Patient B, claim that they were not adequately informed about the risks involved before agreeing to the surgeries. Unfortunately, neither woman regained consciousness after the operations in 2018 and 2019 at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Private Hospital. Both patients had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
The Health Care Complaints Commission conducted an eight-day investigation into the allegations against Dr. Teo. They found evidence to support claims that he had misled patients, failed to obtain informed consent from the patients and their families, and spoke inappropriately to a patient’s daughter after surgery. In its 112-page decision, the commission’s Medical Professional Standards Committee noted that Dr. Teo had chosen to proceed with surgery even when the risks outweighed the potential benefits.
One specific incident highlighted by the committee involved Dr. Teo charging an unsuitable fee of $35,000 for a “high-risk and inappropriate” surgery on a 41-year-old woman from Perth. The committee stated that this procedure should have been conducted in a clinical trial setting or subject to other ethical scrutiny, and criticized Dr. Teo for not exercising appropriate judgment. They referred to his approach as “substantially experimental” and stated that the surgery should not have been carried out by the majority of his peers.
The commission has reprimanded Dr. Teo and imposed conditions on his registration as a result of these findings. They have also ordered him to obtain a written statement from a medical Council-approved neurosurgeon supporting him in performing recurrent malignant intracranial tumor and brain stem tumor surgical procedures. If this statement does not support his ability to perform the surgeries, he will not be allowed to proceed.
During the hearing, Dr. Teo admitted his responsibility for the poor outcomes of the two patients but disputed any claims of negligence. He expressed his frustration at not being able to save lives that he believes he could have saved.
While the investigation and subsequent verdict have brought criticism upon Dr. Teo, there has also been a significant amount of support for him. 47 letters from former patients and their families were submitted as evidence of his competence and positive impact. Additionally, over 100 pages of social media messages were presented, showing support for the surgeon.
It is clear that this case raises important questions about the ethics and responsibilities of medical professionals, particularly when it comes to high-risk surgeries on terminally ill patients. The outcome of this investigation will likely have a significant impact on Dr. Teo’s career and the perception of his work within the medical community and among the general public.